In the summer of 2010, Lateisha Sallah spent her days trying to figure out where she and her children would sleep each night. Some days, she scraped enough money together for a cheap hotel. Other nights, she found a friend’s floor to sleep on.
She spent the worst nights huddled in the car with her daughters, then 14 and 6.
Health issues kept Sallah from working, and the family spent eight months homeless and five months living in the Salvation Army shelter.
“When we were homeless, I felt that I was not a good parent and that my kids didn’t deserve to have a mom like me,” Sallah said.
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Then last year, the Raleigh mom was referred to the Support Circles program operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh. A group of women from Wiley Elementary School, where her youngest daughter attended, formed a support circle for the family.
A support circle is a group of six to 10 volunteers who commit for a year to help a family transition from homelessness. The groups provide “wrap-around services,” which can include helping them find a place to live, giving child care or fulfilling general life needs.
“The women in my support circle were my saving angels,” Sallah said. “They supported me when everything seemed lost and hopeless.”
The volunteers taught Sallah budgeting skills, helped her find an apartment and collected household furnishings for it. They even helped her receive a donated car through Wheels for Hope.
This Christmas, instead of waking up in the backseat of a car, Sallah and her daughters will celebrate in the mobile home that she purchased this fall.
“There aren’t even words to describe how good they were to me and how I feel about them,” Sallah said. “They become more than my support circle. They are my friends.”
‘Changing the lives of generations’
The Support Circles program began through a partnership between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services in 2005, when more than 1,000 people displaced from Hurricane Katrina arrived in Raleigh. The two organizations used Lutheran Family Services’ model for refugee resettlement to form more than 200 support circles for those families.
After the displaced families were settled, Catholic Charities decided to use the same model to help end homelessness and partnered with Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.
“The families really benefit from these new relationships because they are able to access resources that would not have otherwise been available to them,” said Roberta Macauley, Support Circles program coordinator. “There may be a lawyer in the congregation who can provide legal help pro bono or a dentist who gives them access to dental care for them and their children.”
Catholic Charities runs an average of 15 support circles at a time, with a variety of groups and churches providing the help to homeless families. All of the families in the program have been referred by an agency, are employed and have demonstrated a commitment to changing their lives.
“We are actually not just helping the one family, but changing the lives of generations to come as well, and the experience is one that the families never forget,” Macauley said. “When we create opportunities for them, they almost always find ways to give back to the community at large later on.”
How to help
The program is looking for new volunteers. A poverty awareness and training session will be held Jan. 26 that will train attendees to partner with the Support Circles program.
“Even if you think you don’t have something to offer, you can really change someone’s life by helping a support circle,” Sallah said. “Each one of the four women in my support circle made a huge difference in my life.
“They didn’t know me before, but stood beside me and helped me change my path. One person really can make a difference.”